News for June 17, 1999

Richard Virenque banned from Tour de France

Richard Virenque (Team Polti), Spaniard Manolo Saiz, Manager of ONCE-Deutsche Bank, and the TVM-Farm Frites team have been banned from this year's Tour de France, which starts on July 3 in Puy-du-Fou. Other riders and officials banned include Laurent Roux (Casino) and Philippe Gaumont (Cofidis), who are also suspended by their teams and Dr Nicolas Terrados, the ONCE team doctor. All were considered undesirable.

They have been banned by Jean-Marie Leblanc because they are likely to "bring the Tour de France into disrepute". Jean-Marie Leblanc, told a press conference in Paris (mid-morning Wednesday) that Virenque was not welcome. He said that the former Festina rider had "the image of drugs embedded in him and his image, whether or not he was responsible for the situation. His presence at the Tour was not compatible with the reputation of the race that the organisers which to preserve."

Interestingly, Mercatone Uno and Marco Pantani, are not excluded even though doping now hangs over them following the Giro scandal. But Marco Pantani has clearly said he has no intention of racing the Tour.

Among the teams allowed to race is Festina, which started the public scandal. But Pascal Hervé is not on the list that the Andorran team has submitted to the Tour organisers. He was implicated by Willy Voet and his notebooks as a large-scale consumer of drugs at Festina.

Virenque, has always denied being part of the doping ring, unlike most of his former Festina teammates. He signed with Polti at the start of this season. The team is not excluded from the Tour. However, Franco Polti has indicated that it will not come to France if Virenque was banned.

While Festina has been forgiven the Dutch team TVM has not been allowed to start. Jean-Marie Leblanc said: "TVM faced similar challenges to Festina. Its behaviour last year was not in keeping with the image of the Tour. Since then, nothing has changed."

Manolo Saiz was banned because "he made insulting remarks about the Tour and took his team out of the race under conditions we find unacceptable."

Laurent Jalabert has already declared his disgust with French cycling and was not riding the Tour anyway. It is not known whether ONCE will boycott the race.

Patrick Keil comments

Judge Patrick Keil, who is investigating the Festina affair, has said that the action by the organisers of the Tour de France to exclude Richard Virenque was "courageous". He said: "This courageous decision does not surprise me given the personality of the director of the Société du Tour de France."

Richard Virenque was questioned on March 30 by Patrick Keil for his part in the supply and use of banned substances. The Director of the Société du Tour de France, Jean-Marie Leblanc, has announced in a press conference on Wednesday that Richard Virenque will not be able to start in this year's Tour de France. The decision will start a storm.

The 20 Teams:

The organisers of the 86th edition of the Tour de France have announced the list of 20 teams (with 9 riders each) who will be allowed to participate in the Tour which starts on July 3 at Puy-du-Fou.

Mapei-Quick Step (Italy)
Rabobank (Netherlands)
ONCE-Deutsche Bank (Spain)
Team Polti (Italy)
Saeco-Cannondale (Italy)
Lotto-Mobistar (Belgium)
Casino (France)
Mercatone Uno-Bianchi (Italy)
Kelme-Costa Blanca (Spain)
Cofidis (France)
Vitalicio Seguros (Spain)
Team Deutsche Telekom (Germany)
Crédit Agricole (France)
Festina Watches (France)
Banesto (Spain)
Vini Caldirola-Sidermec (Italy)
La Française des Jeux (France)
US Postal Service (USA)
Big Mat-Auber 93 (France)
Lampre-Daikin (Italy)

Tour ready to use EPO tests

Jean-Marie Leblanc also told the press conference that they would be willing to use the tests for EPO if they can be proven to be reliable. "If they can prove EPO use we will cheer and welcome them. This followed news overnight that Australian researchers have been working with Dr. Gerard Dine in France and they have claimed that they now have a foolproof method of testing for artificial intake of EPO. The tests will be used at next year's Sydney Olympics. But Leblanc said, when confronted with the call by Dine to use the tests, that the high costs of implementation should be borne by the government and the UCI.

Key reactions to the decision

Laurent Jallabert, of the OUNCE team, was interviewed by France 2: "It is not at all logical. He is a runner who does not deserve to be excluded from the Tour. I believe the judge said that he should participate on the presumption of innocence. I see no reason for this decision."

Vittorio Algeri, Polti team manager, also interviewed by France 2: "It is a pity because I think that he is not any more guilty than other riders. I think he has already paid a lot."

Richard Virenque talks

Richard Virenque spoke on Wednesday night after the decision to exclude him from the event he loves the most. "It is very, very difficult. I cannot know what to make of it yet. I have subjected myself to all the tests which exist in this world - Italian tests, the French longitudinal follow-up, even with legal test. I am the most tested rider in the world. Is it my fault that the sport is full of drugs? I have done everything that is within my capacities and position to make the sport better and then they ban me. If they wanted to hurt me then they could not have made a better decision. I hope that my team Polti can change their decision. The Tour created me and now it is killing me."

The French rider was ready to take daily blood tests to prove his good faith. With reference to the findings by Australian scientists and the French Doctor Gerard Dine, who is associated with the CHU located at Troyes who say they have a foolproof EPO test, Virenque said:

"If a researcher has found an EPO test then one should give him all the resources that he needs. If Jean-Marie Leblanc wants a clean and healthy race why doesn't he give the researchers the money to use their test." This was in reference to Leblanc saying that it was the UCI and government's business to make sure the testing is done. Scapegoats like Virenque are much easier business for the Tour organisers it seems than getting to the bottom of the matter!